Be human to human beings

Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, mass shootings, massive firings in some industries, the war in Ukraine, or the war in the Middle East… it is reasonable to expect that any, some, or all of these events -and others- have impacted and still impact the minds and hearts of the people in your charge at work.

I invite you (and keep in mind that I am not beyond imploring or begging) that you do not turn a blind eye to how your people are affected, and that how they are affected impacts their ability to perform. I’m inviting you to be human. Being human to another human being is not a sign of weakness nor does it entail a loss of power.

And why should you?

Well, because they are human. They’re not things.

Call me a master of the obvious and I will say that there is enough evidence to show that managers and business owners often override this with the doctrine of some dead economist to the effect that “everyone is looking for their self-interest” or “employees have contractual obligations”.

That, by the way, is eons away from the other discourse they hold for the gallery: “We’re a family”, “people are our most important asset”, and -wait for it- “We’re all in this together”.

Again, why should you?

Well, because you are human too. As managers and business owners, we work with people, not through people.

We work with what’s there – now. And that changes from day to day as people have successes, are tired, have children, are worried, navigate grief, move from one city to another, go back to school, etc. It also changes based on what is going on in their environments, close and remote.

Over the years I found that the best teachers and the best managers and business owners all work from the same premise: you teach/manage the people in front of you. Not the ones you wish you had, but the ones you have, the ones that are there.

And not only are they different from one another in abilities and readiness, but they are also different from one day to the next. That is who you work with. Every day.

People are struggling.

There is a lot going on and they carry quite a bit from the recent past.

On the odd chance that you feel this might be too touchy-feely for you, I will say this: Emotions exist. They affect what we think about and how we think. The reasonable thing to do is to acknowledge emotions and work with them. To dismiss them altogether is, well, irrational.

So the invitation is this: be human to your fellow human beings, in difficult times and always.

I know you can. I trust you will.


I originally published this text in the October 2023 issue of my monthly newsletter.

Executive compensation: reality is different than what Americans believe

From a nationwide Stanford University survey:

The typical American believes a CEO earns $1.0 million in pay (average of $9.3 million), whereas median reported compensation for the CEOs of these companies is approximately $10.3 million (average of $12.2 million).”

Those who believe in capping CEO pay relative to the average worker would do so at a very low multiple. The typical American would limit CEO pay to no more than 6 times (17.6 times, based on average numbers) that of the average worker. These figures are significantly below current pay multiples, which are approximately 210 times based on recent compensation figures.”


“Americans and CEO Pay: 2016 Public Perception Survey on CEO Compensation.” Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2016, Accessed 10 Aug. 2023.


Failure and being hooked to a positive outlook

Costica Bradatan:

We fail all the time, in things large and small, yet our biggest failure may be that, as a rule, we don’t understand failure. And since we are not equipped to think about it, we can’t grasp its broader significance in our lives.

A long evolutionary history has hardwired us to go blindly for whatever increases our chances of survival in the world, and therefore to chase immediate success. Brooding over failure, just as brooding over our finitude and mortality, doesn’t improve our chances of survival.

Failure is the sudden irruption of nothingness in the midst of existence, and contemplating nothingness, while spiritually enlightening, doesn’t make much evolutionary sense. That’s why when failure happens – and it happens all the time – we instinctively tend to move on, without paying much heed or studying it in depth.

This must be one of failure’s sweetest victories over us: on a deep level, we are designed to fail, and to fail badly (including our final failure: physical annihilation), and yet we are conditioned to remain blissfully unaware of failure’s darker message because our thinking can’t come to terms with it, just as it can’t come to terms with death itself.


Th[e] sugarcoating of failure is part of a larger societal process. Everything that is unpleasant, disturbing, depressing in our culture is neutralised, sterilised and promptly taken out of view. Not so much for mental health reasons as for economic and social ones.

To be productive members of society, to be able to make large amounts of money and to spend even more, to take loans and to pay them back with interest, we need to be hooked to a ‘positive outlook’.

Capitalism doesn’t thrive on loners, depressives and metaphysicians. No respectable bank will lend money to a client today who may snap and go Henry David Thoreau tomorrow.

Costica Bradatan. “Learning to Be a Loser: A Philosopher’s Case for Doing Nothing.” Psyche, Psyche Magazine, 19 June 2023, Accessed 28 June 2023.

Orwell feared oppression. No need, said Huxley, triviality is what makes us irrelevant

From the Foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in the age of show business (20th anniversary edition, by Neil Postman, Penguin Books 2006. First edition published in 1985.

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another–slightly older, slightly less well-known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be
drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.


Advice to a 13-year old

Nick Cave:

Read. Read as much as possible. Read the big stuff, the challenging stuff, the confronting stuff, and read the fun stuff too.

Visit galleries and look at paintings, watch movies, listen to music, go to concerts – be a little vampire running around the place sucking up all the art and ideas you can.

Fill yourself with the beautiful stuff of the world.

Have fun. Get amazed. Get astonished. Get awed on a regular basis, so that getting awed is habitual and becomes a state of being.

A great start. Better being habitually awed than, you know, “serious”.


Inspiration: don’t wait for it

Simon Sarris:

Inspiration, the admixture of genius and motivation, is sometimes described as a force that strikes us after some patient lull or waiting period. This idleness is a mistake.

The Muse arrives to us most readily during creation, not before. Homer and Hesiod invoke the Muses not while wondering what to compose, but as they begin to sing.

If we are going to call upon inspiration to guide us through, we have to first begin the work.

So it is an error to wait around for inspiration, or to demand some feeling of readiness for an undertaking, or for a teacher or some other golden opportunity.

I think these slouching inclinations come partly from an overly-systematized experience during childhood school years, and partly from a fear of failure. In fact, when you stop waiting for others—for either their permission or instruction—and instead begin on your own, fumbling through, regardless of how ready you are, this could be considered one of the true beginnings of adulthood.


The American self-help industrial complex

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen in The Yale Review:

As Americans, we find ourselves in a culture that so fetishizes success that it cannot tolerate failure. So it deals with it in one of two ways.

The first is to view failure in individualized and atom­ized terms, blaming the losers for their losses.

The second, which is equally insidious, is to be so disdainful of failure that it insists that what looks like failure in fact is a mere “stepping-stone to success,” in the philosopher Costica Bradatan’s phrase.

Thus the platitudinous self-help bromides that we find adorned on a framed poster in a bank teller’s cubicle (“Failure is success in progress”) or shouted by a fitness influencer hawking protein powder on TikTok (“There’s no failure that willpower can’t turn into success”).

In a culture that demands overcoming against all odds, even failure has been commodified by the American self-help industrial complex: rebranded not as a devastating and possibly life-altering event but as a blip en route to a chest-thumping achievement, accomplish­ment, or acquisition.

Managers: it’s time to remind yourself why anyone should care

From the raw signal group:

Authors observe that a consequence of the great resignation is that people are walking into new jobs with a different attitude.

They didn’t come asking for meaning, or flavour, or for work to delight them. They came with boundaries and a list of expectations. And, listen: that’s a good thing. It’s extremely healthy for workers to want things like limits on working hours, competitive pay regardless of geography, and an ability to shut off work when they aren’t at work. We should hope that those gains, as uneven as they’ve been, outlast any pandemic or economic cycle.

Those changes are necessary. But they aren’t sufficient. Like a shopping mall food court, we’re surrounded by companies shouting about what a good deal they’re offering. Globally competitive salaries! 4 day work weeks in summer! Free dipping sauce! And in the midst of it, it feels like more people than ever before are finding their work really… bland. Like in the fight to compete for attention, employers have forgotten to build a culture worth fighting for.

So, insisting that we return to the office, to the same-old, just won’t cut it. And assuming that we’re all set because we are already remote or distributed won’t do it either. It’s not so much about the mode of work as it is the moment.

Their suggestion?

It’s time to tell the story again, bosses. Get your house in order on compensation and workload and expectations, for sure. But once you’ve done that, it’s time to remind yourself why anyone should care.

You may find this surprisingly hard at first. Why does your work matter? What impact does it have on the world around you, and why should someone who doesn’t care about the details of your industry give a shit? We don’t mean some sanitized corporate mission statement. We mean your own, real, authentically felt, dare-we-say-it-spicy sense of purpose.

Connect with that story. Tell that story. A modern one, with fresh spices. You want your people to feel it, to put the fire back in your organization. And you’re not gonna get there with the version that’s been sitting at the bottom of the drawer since 2019.

It’s not the overused and abused “Storytelling”. It’s creating clarity for yourself first.